Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, speak to us by your word, draw us to yourself, and lead us from desiring the lives of others, to desiring you above all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
We have reached the end of the Ten Commandments. If you have been with us this fall, we have been making the slow journey through Exodus chapter 20. God brought his people, the Israelites, out of bondage in Egypt and led them up to Mount Sinai. There he established his covenant with them, binding them in relationship to him. In doing so, God revealed to them, to us, how we are called to live as people in relationship with him. The first section of these Ten Words – Ten Commandments – dealt with our relationship with God. The second section, capped off by the tenth commandment we will study this morning, deals with our duty to love our neighbors. It’s Exodus 20, verse 17. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A couple years ago, I was talking with a friend and he confessed that he struggled going on Facebook and seeing what all his friends from high school were doing. My friend had gone through college and grad school, racking up a lot of debt. He had a decent paying job, small kids, and a nice house to live in. But whenever he went on Facebook, he saw his friends who started work right out of high school buying new SUVs or cottages while he kept nursing along that old car he bought back in high school and paying back student loans. He felt anxious and discontent with where he was and knew that jumping on Facebook and scroll through the photos only made it worse.
My friend was struggling with coveting. Coveting is the word for when we desire something that belongs to someone else. Coveting is when we want what our neighbor has, and not just their stuff. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house – their household, not just the physical place they live, but their whole life. Coveting creeps in when we look at our neighbor’s life and wish it were ours. you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife – we can covet someone’s family. Their marriage must be wonderful. Her husband never does that. His kids are always well-behaved. At least she has a husband. At least he has kids. We can look across the fence and covet someone’s family. his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, – we can covet success at work. That promotion we think would make things better. Those extra dollars/hour that would make life easier. That recognition she gets, but I never do. Even having a job at all. Coveting can touch all areas of our life. In case we thought anything was left out, God includes or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. Their Xbox, how clean their house is, even someone else’s spiritual gifts can be an occasion for coveting. Coveting is desiring something that belongs to someone else.
Coveting can show up as longing and discontent, but it can also show up as bitterness. When we cannot enjoy the success or blessing of our neighbor, that is often evidence of some coveting in our hearts.
The problem is not desire. God made us to desire, to love, to hope, to long for. The problem is not even desiring the blessings of God. The problem with coveting is desiring what belongs to someone else. It is desiring someone else’s blessing, someone else’s life, even someone else’s calling and responsibility. Coveting is a desire that distracts and draws us away from where we should truly be focused.
When I am coveting my neighbor’s house, I am not being attentive to the house God has given me. When I am coveting my neighbor’s wife and kids, I am probably not loving my own well. When I am coveting my neighbor’s job, I am breeding discontentment with my own. When I covet the blessings God has given to others, I become dismissive of the blessings in my own life.
Coveting feeds on comparison and is poison to contentment and calling. Let’s think of an example. Imagine you are back in school. You studied hard for an test recently in a subject that is pretty difficult for you. After a lot of work, you got an 82. You are feeling good. Twenty minutes later, you overhear someone else saying how they barely studied and got an 87. What is likely to happen in your heart? Hopefully you still feel good about your 82, but probably not as good as you did twenty minutes ago. You might feel angry or bitter toward the person with the 87. You might feel discouraged about yourself. You might commit to doubling your studying next time to try and make up the difference – work yourself to the ground – or you might feel like ‘why try?’ All of this because you began to compare yourself with someone else. For a moment you were content with the fruit of your hard work, but comparison sucks it all away and even tempts you to be less invested in your calling as a student.
I hope you can translate this example from school to the workplace to family to life in your neighborhood if you need to, but you can see what I mean. Coveting is desiring what belongs to someone else. Coveting feeds on comparison and is a poison to contentment and calling. When we compare and covet, we are no longer seeing clearly the blessings we have received from God or the calling he has placed in front of us. Instead, we want someone else’s life.
The opposite of coveting is contentment, trusting in the goodness of God. If coveting desires the life of your neighbor, contentment is gratitude for the life you have been given. Comparison and discontentment can be a powerful motivator. As someone who spent 22 years of his life in school, comparison drove me to be a higher achiever in the classroom, but it never made me a more faithful follower of Jesus. In fact, it bred a deep discontent in my life that I am still working to undo.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. If coveting is wanting what belongs to others, contentment is trusting in the goodness fo God, whatever he has given us. Contentment is not laziness, but commitment to being faithful in what God has called us to, not what he has not. Listen to Paul’s instruction to Timothy: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:6-10)
You might be thinking, ‘Contentment, that sounds great Pastor Stephen, but I don’t even know what that would look like. Not with life as it is right now. Not with my situation.’ The sad truth is that the problem is likely worse that you imagine. The challenge today is that the problem of coveting is not just something internal, not just something buried deep in our hearts. Distraction and Discontentment are the backbone of the modern economy. Not only is it everywhere, but coveting is being cultivated and curated.
Your most precious commodity in the world right now is your attention and everything you own is trying to grab your attention in order to get you to want something so you will buy something. About a year ago, I removed almost all the notifications on my phone, because all the blips and beeps were giving me anxiety. My phone, my smart TV, my computer, were all telling me all the time that there was something pressing I needed to deal with. There wasn’t. But it kept me discontent, anxious, and less engaged with my family.
But our whole economy requires you and I being discontent and coveting the lives and stuff of other people and then spending our money to get it. You buy socks on Amazon and for the next three days every website you go to and every time you scroll Facebook you are being told that you probably need more socks, and probably underwear, and maybe some new shoes to go with those socks, and toenail clippers, and… Coveting creeps in when we fill our lives with things we don’t need because slogans have gotten into us. Slogans that tell us that everyone else’s life is better and easier and yours can be too if you just buy this one thing.
In one sense, this is nothing new. Comparison that leads to anxious buying is not something that was invented by the internet. Discontent is not a particularly contemporary problem. However, we used to have communities and institutions – like the church – that offset the pul of the covet culture and would provide a different center from which to live our lives. As less people find their vision for life within the church as it proclaims and lives the Word of God and as this vision has less of a hold on our broader culture, more and more of us are searching for contentment elsewhere.
I am an annoying person to watch TV commercials with. Thankfully, we rarely watch that way anymore, but I am constantly dissecting the commercials to see what they are really selling. A Lexus commercial is not really about a Lexus. It is telling you that if you buy that car you will have the life of the person in the commercial. You will be cool, sophisticated, and confident. You buy Old Spice and you will be masculine and ladies will love you. They are not selling you a product, but a lifestyle. A lifestyle you do not have, but now, after watching the commercial, you want. Coveting is wanting what belongs to someone else. Coveting feeds on comparison and is poison to contentment and calling.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. Who has not wished that they had someone else’s life, someone else’s health, someone else’s family, something else’s opportunity? Who can find godliness with contentment in a world determined to keep us dissatisfied and discontent, a world where our hearts on their own would compare and covet, but where the flames of discontentment are being stoked with every pop-up, snap, tiktok, or facebook post?
In order to find contentment, which is the opposite of coveting, we need to know what kind of sin coveting is. Coveting is a sin of desire. All the other Ten Commandments address first actions of our bodies. You shall not worship. You shall not make idols. You shall not misuse god’s name. Remember the sabbath. Honor your father and mother. No murder. No adultery. No theft. No false testimony. All these commands begin first with our hands and then God reaches back to our hearts to what lies behind the action itself. However, the tenth commandment begins in the heart and only later becomes something we do with our bodies.
Coveting is a sin of desire. The solution to coveting is more desire, not less. Contentment is found in desiring God’s saving kingdom to be manifest in the world, in a desire for Christ himself. When our hearts are set on God, when we find our rest, our hope in Christ, then we can have peace and contentment with whatever life we have been given. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
If our hearts are first concerned with food and clothing, the life we have, the life our neighbor has, then worry and discontentment with grip our hearts, a breeding ground for coveting. But if our hearts are set first on Christ, his kingdom and righteousness, then worry begins to melt away. It is not that there will not be troubles. In this life you will have troubles. But when what matters most is secure, your life and identity in Christ, and cannot be taken away, then coveting seems a waste of time. If my life is about Jesus, about glorifying his name, serving him by serving my neighbor, sharing the name of Christ, then why do I care if my neighbor has a better lawn than me, a better job than me, a more put-together family than me. Because I am secure in Jesus, I can fully commit to who God has given me and where he has placed me.
What is the desire of your heart? Delight in the Lord. Coveting feeds on comparison and is a poison to contentment and calling. Delight in the LORD grows contentment and courage. Contentment is not sentimental, but a deep-rooted trust in the providence of God. Listen again to Paul’s letter to Timothy: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-20)
put their hope in God. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to you neighbor. Instead, put your hope in God.
When we do, it will change us. I want to close with this: It will change how we pray, how we suffer, and how we celebrate.
First, finding contentment in Christ will change how we pray. We may still occasionally pray for material blessing, true, but our prayers will more often be for the kingdom of God to come, for the lost to be saved, for the glory of Christ to be revealed. We will pray more for daily bread than for overflowing bounty. Our eyes focusing on Christ, his kingdom and righteousness, will reshape our prayers to be more in line with his promise and desires. “The spread of the gospel becomes a daily part of our intercesssion. In place of grumbling and complaining, we know contentment, but more – yearning to hear the name of Jesus being lifted up, and joy in the triumphs of the gospel. The Spirit dispels greed. We desire now the honor of the Savior” (Clowney, 147). Finding contentment in Christ will change how we pray.
Second, it will also change how we suffer. Lament and longing for heaven will replace all the happy-clappy optimism that seek to ‘put a good face on things.’ Content in Christ, we can learn to persevere, to wait, to hope. We can learn to look forward to the return of Christ, where every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more, even as we commit to loving God and neighbor right here, right now. Contentment in Christ, security in Christ, is the difference between joy and happiness, between the deep-seated knowledge of our place in God’s hands and the fleeting emotions laced with dopamine. It means knowing God’s perseverance with us in spite of sin, which leads to our perseverance with God, our trust in him in the midst of suffering. Contentment in Christ changes how we suffer, how we endure.
Lastly, contentment in Christ changes how we celebrate. Coveting, among others things, robs us of gratitude. It is a sin of discontented desire that cannot thank God for what we have, but only blame him for what we do not. Contentment in Christ allows us to celebrate well. We can learn to rejoice and give thanks for both the material and spiritual blessings that have come to us from God’s hand. It reshapes our vision to thankfulness, instead of bitterness. One of the best ways to kill coveting is with acts of gratitude.
God has been doing incredible work in my friend who was jealous of the SUVs and cottages of his classmates. He still has struggles, but his growing contentment has helped him grow significantly in his love for his family, his neighbors, and his church.
May we find our contentment in Christ and be freed to live for him.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.